This interview was conducted by Pınar AKPINAR, Vice Director, Center for International Conflict Resolution at Yalova University during the II. Istanbul Conference on Mediation on April 11, 2013.
Mr. Jamal Mohamed BARROW is Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Federal Republic of Somalia. He was managing director at the Center for Training and Consultancy (CTC) from 2002 until 2012. He was also general manager of the St. Clements University Open Learning Campus Center in Somalia. Between 1995 and 2004, Mr. Barrow facilitated numerous workshops on peacebuilding and conflict resolution, leadership, team building, community development, project management, entrepreneurship, fundraising, project evaluation and monitoring, strategic planning, human rights and democracy. Mr. Barrow was member of a team of Somali and Foreign consultants that developed Code of Conduct for the Somali Civil Society organizations between 2003 and 2004. He was trainer of Life and Peace Institute in South/central and Puntland. He was also in charge of the Somali National Commission for UNESCO as Assistant Executive Secretary between 1988 and 1990. Mr. Barrow was Deputy Director and Head of Bibliography Department of the Somali National Library between 1985 and 1988. He has been a member of Board of Director of Somali Institute for Management and Administration Development since 2007 as well as a member of Somali Institute for Peace Research since 2010.
How would you describe the situation in Somalia? What are the major problem areas?
The situation in Somalia now is improving security wise and humanitarian wise. The problem we have is that the humanitarian aid in Somalia is not coordinated. It is uncoordinated. So, you can imagine that something that is not coordinated has less impact.
Security wise, you know, our president Hassan Sheikh has a Six Pillars Framework Policy. The first focus of this framework is security. The justice and judiciary system is number two. The economic and financial reform is the third one. Then, service delivery, reconciliation, and all these things.
We have already started the reformation of the judiciary system as well as the security system. Our government has already reached an agreement with the Turkish government. There is a three-year plan for security which is jointly developed by the Turkish and the Somali government. The judiciary has already started. Last week there was a conference where we invited 200 Somali legal experts to come up with a plan to reform the judiciary system.
In terms of the financial reform, there is an initiative led by the Norwegian government. The donors will give the money to the Norwegian government and it will go to a fund. The trust fund will control the budget that the Somalis will need. The Norwegians donated 30 million US Dollars now which is in the fund. The intention is to improve the public financial management of the government.
We have developed a policy unit under the President’s Office. We develop policies and translate them into programs. Then, we distribute the programs to the concerning institutions within the government to implement that program. We can say that the process has already started. We are just waiting for the implementation of the programs.
What we are doing is the training of the security people such as the police and the military with the help of the AMISOM, the EU, among others.
Who are the most likely outside partners in Somalia in overcoming the current problems?
There are many but Turkey is the most reliable. Because of the strategic plan they have. There are so many external actors approaching us, pledging support but still the tangible thing is offered by the Turkish government.
What makes them reliable?
They are keen to support Somalia. Because whenever you come up with a realistic plan, and you are willing to implementing it, and you are putting it forth to get accepted by the others, that’s something tangible for the Somalis.
What is your idea about Turkey’s policy towards Somalia?
There are so many ambiguities but still we see that it is positive. Some people say that there is a long-term plan for the Turks, long-term interest. That’s the view of the others but Somalis believe that Turks are really willing to support Somalis. They always talk about the example of the 2011 visit of the Turkish Prime Minister to Somalia. At that time, Somalia was in a critical situation. People were to die but because of his visit it opened a gate for others to come and support Somalia. It was a political, moral, economic support at that time. Because, as you know, the international NGOs always wait that people start to die. They take photos and send it as the problem in Somalia. At that time, Somalia hadn’t reached that situation because of the visit of the Prime Minister [Erdoğan]. It raised hope really.
What do you think would Turkey’s major contribution to Somalia be?
We need support for the reformation of the judiciary, the financial and the security system. Security is our main problem. We cannot wait any longer for security.
Somalia witnessed several peacebuilding initiatives until now. What do you think is Turkey’s difference in Somalia?
Turkey has not been involved in the reconciliation between the factions but between the administrations. Turkey has mediated between Somaliland and Somalia, which are administrations. Always it depends how Turks will try to understand the context. That’s very important. If you understand the context, you have power. So, first of all Turkey must understand the context. What are the issues, what is the root cause? What outcome each party wants to gain?
Do you think they are not paying enough attention or they are not trying to understand different contexts in Somalia?
I can’t say that how this process started and which angles they are using but it’s my advice to have at least enough knowledge about the context. The context and the actors. The actors are clear but the context is really important.
When you compare Turkey’s peacebuilding approach with the approaches of other external actors in Somalia such as Norway, the US or the UN what differences do you see?
No, it is similar. They were doing the same Turkey is doing now. Because they bring the groups together and open dialogue between them, pushing them. The approach is the same.
Turkey often emphasizes cultural, religious links with Somalia. Do you think Turkey really has cultural links or any similarities with Somalia?
That’s important. Even if we have difference, it does not matter. It does not mean that we cannot come together. Cultural links can be established and they will facilitate both sides to understand each other’s context and create confidence among themselves. If you know my culture you are not a risk to damage me, to hurt me cause you know my culture. It is very important for us to have an idea about the culture of each country, each people that will narrow misunderstandings.
Do you ever face problems with external actors in Somalia in terms of cultural misunderstandings?
The problem stems from imposing. If you try to impose me something, it is not easy to achieve your goal. But if you facilitate, facilitation is better than imposing. Because, if you take examples from other countries, they say ‘We did this in Kosovo.’ Kosova is very different than Somalia. If you try to implement the same idea in Somalia it does not work. You will risk that. So just facilitate. Every people have their own mechanism of peacebuilding, reconciliation, negotiation, mediation. Just improve that. ımprove their own one. Just push them, facilitate them to use their own mechanism instead of bringing a mechanism from outside. Even if you bring it from an African country, there is always a difference between the two communities. For example, Ethiopians are not similar with the Somalis in terms of culture, in terms of religion. So, just understand their own mechanisms and facilitate them to use it.
What do you think about the Turkish NGO involvement in Somalia? How do you think they can contribute to peace in the country?
It depends on the Commitment of the donor who is giving the money to the NGOs. I worked for NGOs for fifteen years. What we were always interested in was that the projects should continue not stop. They still have a role because they can reach the grassroots. There must be a role for the Somalis and there must be a role for the government. It must be a triangle: the donor, the NGO, and the government. The roles of each must be clear. For example, there is an NGO working in water sector. As the government I know where the problem is. Because sometimes scarcity of water can cause conflict. But if the NGO digs a well somewhere there is no conflict, it doesn’t contribute to the solution. What the government can do is that it guides you to the place where there is no water.
Most of them do not consult the government. And sometimes they prefer operating in places that are easily accessible. That doesn’t always contribute to peace.
What do you think about Turkeys mediation in Somalia?
Turkey has the trust of the two sides. It is seen as neutral. All the mediators had interests in Somalia like Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya. All of them had interest in Somalia. But Turkey now is very different. I cant say they don’t have interest but they are seen as they are neutral in Somalia and don’t have interest. They are giving support to two sides that contribute to the success of the mediation.
How would you evaluate Turkey’s diplomatic attempts for Somalia on international platforms?
In the last two years, Turkey supported Somalia in every international forum. Somalia has been absent from the international forums for more than 20 years. So to come back to that forum and catch up it needs support. Especially, developing countries support. Turkey’s support is now needed for Somalia to come back to the international forum. Sometimes they need the voice of strong governments like Turkey; sometimes they need the financial support from Turkey. Because, you know we are members of a number of international organizations. Now we have been away because of the lack of financial contribution in the last twenty years. If Turkey supports us to come back through paying this contribution, then we get a voice, we can vote even. But now we cannot vote. So all these things Turkey can help Somalia to come back to the seats of international organizations. That will even help Turkey. Whenever it needs votes, Somalis can take Turkey. There are so many projects in the international forums. For example, UNESCO. We were member of UNESCO, an active member until 1991 but after 1991 we were away from UNESCO. In UNESCO there are so many huge projects, especially education given to the developing countries. Now we are missing that. Because of the contribution we cannot directly benefit from those programs. If we could pay the contribution, we could get the projects back.
Turkey follows an all-inclusive approach in its mediation attempts. There was a conference in Istanbul on the Somali peace process. Turkey invited various stakeholders from Somalia including the traditional elders, many civil society representatives, among others. What do you think about the conference? There was some criticism about it.
You know, if you do something you will get criticism and support. If you don’t do something you will not get criticized and you will not get support. That means you do nothing. If the criticism is constructive, that will improve Turkey’s role in Somalia and it has to listen to the constructive one. But the destructive one is another issue. One thing I myself felt when you were organizing this big conference bringing everyone in. It was not directly managed through the Turkish. There were people between the Turkish and the invitees. But sometimes you loose. Because you know, you are inviting some people you don’t know. For example, some that were invited as elders were actually politicians, some invited civil society members were politicians. Why? Because you don’t know who is who. If I am a politician, I will have my own political agenda. So I will bring it to the conference.
What do you think Turkey should do to avoid confusion?
They must understand. They must learn about Somalis. They must get more information about Somalis. The Westerners have a lot of detail about Somalis. So, the Turkish should do the same.
How do you think Turkey’s peacebuilding initiatives in Somalia can be sustainable?
Turkey has contributed especially in terms of poverty. Now in Mogadishu, the number of projects funded by Turkey created jobs for young people. These young people are the people who were used in the fighting but now they don’t care. Because they have some sort of income. They work for the projects and get some money from there. That is some sort of contribution to the peacebuilding. If we eradicate or reduce the rate of unemployment that is something to the peacebuilding. Turkey is doing that. They are constructing the roads, providing employment. Now you see that so many airline companies approaching the government. There are now more than five airline companies that want to fly into Mogadishu.
Ethiopia, Yemen, Kenya, among others.
Is there anything you would like to add?
The context is very important. Inclusiveness, neutrality, being resourceful, information, and crosschecking information are very important. It is the nature of post-conflict situation. Post-conflict situation is very difficult. I say it because, the factionists in Somalia, most of them are clan based. A member of a clan cannot tell you the weakness of their clan. They will only tell you the strength of their clan. This is the nature of the post-conflict situation. I advice you to look at as many resources as possible.